The phone call from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service came on a Wednesday morning about three hours after our weekly newspaper had gone to press.
A contracted truck driver had been caught red-handed mishandling mail from our local post office the night before. Charges were pending.
My wife and I had been checking into rumors of missing mail for several weeks, even sending some birthday cards – because of possible cash inside, birthday cards were the mail most often reported missing – to ourselves. Some of our cards failed to arrive, too.
The U.S. Postal Service was tight-lipped about its own investigation, but we had pieced together enough facts to go to press with a story.
Three hours later, it was terribly out of date – and our next print edition was seven days away.
Not to worry. My wife wrote a new story, and we posted it immediately on our Web site with the tag: “Updated from our print edition.”
It was one more example of how our Web site was living up to its billing as “Vandalia’s daily newspaper.” Our print edition came out only once a week, but with our Web site, we could deliver news to our community 24/7.
Daily newspapers, especially the metros, already understand the concept of updating their Web sites between print editions. So do some weeklies.
But many weeklies have been slower to catch on, posting stories online when their print edition is published, then ignoring their Web sites for the next seven days.
Unfortunately for them, a once-a-week Web site doesn’t help build traffic, and traffic is what helps you sell advertising, turning your Web site into a revenue stream instead of a revenue drain.
Even small, time-starved weeklies, like our old mom-and-pop weekly in Missouri, can lure readers to their Web sites every day with a minimum investment of time.
Here are some simple tips how:
- Make sure every funeral home in your area faxes or e-mails partial death notices to you, just as they already do to radio stations and the daily newspaper. Post that partial obit as soon as you get it, notifying readers when the visitation and funeral will be. Everybody knows everybody else in many small towns, and readers will check your site daily to keep up with deaths.
- Whenever you cover a sporting event at your school, post a photo when you return to the office. Write a cutline or short story with the final score. Remind readers to see your next print edition for a full report. If you cover a lot of sports during the school year, readers – especially young people and their parents – will check your site frequently for updates.
- Most newspaper Web sites have a dominant photo atop their home page.
Change yours once or twice between issues. Even a feature picture will do if it gives your site a fresh look.
- Make sure you’re notified first about boil alerts in your community. Post them immediately.
- Schools closed because of bad weather? Ask your superintendent to call you first so you can post the closing on your Web site before parents see it on TV. Post updates later in the day when you find out whether ballgames will be played or if school will be held the next day. If it’s a snowstorm, include links to state Web sites that update highway conditions.
- Why make your readers listen to the radio or watch TV for local results on election night? Post them online as soon as you get them, even precinct by precinct if the counting is slow. Include a link to your county clerk’s and secretary of state’s Web sites if they post results of regional and statewide races.
- Post other breaking news as it occurs, even if you just have a picture and a cutline. Fires. Ice storms. Tornadoes. Floods. Houston Herald publisher Brad Gentry did a great job of keeping his readers informed of March flooding in his south-central Missouri community (www.houstonherald.com). Buffalo Reflex editor Paul Campbell posted 16 photos and a four-paragraph story within hours after a tornado struck his Missouri Ozarks town on March 31 (www.buffaloreflex.com). Always remind readers that they’ll find a full report in the next print edition.
When you update your Web site only once a week, using the same stories that appear in your newspaper, you compete with your newspaper.
But when you update between issues, your Web site complements your newspaper.
That can turn even the smallest weekly into your town’s “daily” newspaper.
Gary Sosniecki is a regional sales manager for Townnews.com specializing in weekly newspapers. He has owned three weekly newspapers and published a small daily in Missouri during a 34-year newspaper career. He may be reached at email@example.com.